Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interview with Jennifer Leigh Warren

Triple threat Jennifer Leigh Warren will sing the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey in Diamonds Are Forever: the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey at the Renberg Theatre of the Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood beginning June 16. Known for her incredible performances on stage including most recently in NoHo the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella Panto and the extraordinary new ensemble musical Having It All, this lady is going places. In our chat she defines the Bassey show, emphasizing quite clearly that she is NOT impersonating Shirley Bassey. 

How daunting is it to do Shirley Bassey?

 I'm not playing her. It's not a life story, a bio or an imitation. It is to quote Richard Jay -(Alexander) "a gentle nod to the brilliance of the material and unique delivery of some of the greatest songs ever written." This was an idea of mine that I had for a very long time, and I started singing some of the songs @ Upright Cabaret. I went to Chris Isaacson with the idea, and he thought it would be great. Then I thought of Richard Jay-Alexander to direct, because he is the perfect person for something like this. He came into town; we had a meeting; it went very well. We did a rehearsal with just a pianist and me singing some of the songs and him going over them with me. It just clicked. So, we're off and running. The Gay and Lesbian Center is the perfect setting for it; it's a beautiful theater, and some of the proceeds will go to help the Center with their LGBT homeless Youth programs. What is daunting is that it's a new thing. It's sort of like a hybrid with all these talented people. Besides Chris and Richard, Kenneth Crouch is going to be music director, and the gowns...are going to be by Ali Rahimi of  Mon Atelier. He's amazing. He's designed for Madonna and most recently for Jane Lynch on Glee. (she pauses) The singer out there, with the band around her, and the beautiful lighting, those beautiful gowns, and these beautiful songs... and just having fun.

Why Shirley Bassey? Have you always loved her?

Oh come on, there are very few African American women like her. She has this strange accent. Her style is dramatic. No one can imitate her. I'm not even going to try. I have this love for her choice of songs. As publicist David Elzer said, "It's a diva's dream come true!" It's celebrating that era, that talent. I've always been known for having a big loud voice and I remind people of Shirley Bassey. The women with the big voices.

Are you going to do "This Is My Life"?

I can't tell you. I can say there will be songs in there that you love. Her catalogue is immense. Whittling them down has been daunting. I just think it's going to be interesting and different and fun.

With you singing, it will be wonderful. Let's switch gears and talk about Having It All. What's that been like?

That's a labor of love too. Especially to do the show with the four other wonderful women. What's great about it is everyone is rooting and cheering each other on. And how often do you get five women as leads in a show? Serious story lines. It's comedic and it's fun and to be able to play that character  I play - Hey! Potty mouth - telling it like it is, no holds barred. That's so exciting! Wouldn't we all like to be able to
 do that?

Sure! What are the future plans for it?

Lots of Broadway producers are coming. It's like the third extension right now. I'm with it until the 10th until I leave to do this.

What about Cinderella Panto? Did you enjoy that?

That was fabulous, and I hear that it's coming back. Maybe another Panto from the same people, the Lythgoes. That's in the works. It's so weird; it's all of a sudden things exploding all at the same time.

That's great! You keep working! Do you have a favorite role? 

They've all been so different. Doing Crystal and seeing the beginnings of Little Shop (of Horrors) was amazing. And to have Roger Miller write me a song for Big River. C'mon, Hey! (she laughs) Talk about a dream. I just love 'em all. I love my character in Having It All. She's strong, she's funny, she's fun. She's the woman you love to hate, but you also love her because she's telling you the truth. 

So would Shirley Bassey!
 Diamonds Are Forever. I feel seriously blessed and excited! People like Chris Isaacson have pushed to try to make it classy and stylish and as beautiful as it can be.

Had you worked with Richard Jay-Alexander before?

The only thing I did with Richard...a few years ago, he brought the original girls from Little Shop of Horrors back together for a benefit at Joe's Pub. They flew us in. That's how he knew of me. Our styles kind of mesh together, he felt. In my heart, I now it's the perfect blend, because he has the classy and stylish eye for this kind of show.

Let's switch back to other aspects of your career. If you get offered a nonmusical role, do you get disappointed?

Look, I love acting, but I started in musical theatre, so of course musicals are my favorite. It will always be my heart. And everybody wants to be in a musical now. That's fine, because it shows just how important they are to society. And kids, when they get involved in this, there's something wonderful...I can't say what it is... just like laughs) ...remember when the Supreme Court said "We don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it." Musicals that grab your heart, that connect with you...I'm just a musical theatre person.

You seem so different from the characters I've seen you play. I like to see an actor/actress go on stage and be something different. I don't like to see the actor be exactly the same as in life.

Thank you so much. That's such a compliment to Rod Alexander who was my professor at Dartmouth. That was the whole thing, no matter what you're being or doing, you try to be that character. Some people make a living off of being themselves. That's cool. It's a living. That ties in to the whole thing with Diamonds Are Forever. Those songs are acted. Shirley Bassey acted those songs and exuded each character...

I can't wait to see this tremendously talented gal - Jennifer Leigh Warren singing - and acting - these great Shirley Bassey songs. Those chosen, since I chatted with Miss Warren, include, according to producer Isaacson: "Diamonds Are Forever", "Goldfinger", "Big Spender", "This Is My Life" (yeah!), "Let Me Sing, I'm Happy", the early "Please Mr. Brown", and stuff recorded by Barbra Streisand and some other early gay rights songs. Remember June 16 at the Gay and Lesbian Center!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
Chris Isaacson and the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner 
Cultural Arts Center
the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey
Starring Jennifer Leigh Warren
Music Director Kenneth Crouch
Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m. • Sunday at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $30

Call now for Tix! 323.860.7300 or purchase online at

In The Heart of Hollywood’s Theatre District 
(One Block East of Highland, just north of Santa Monica Blvd) 
1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, CA

In addition to directing and co-creating "Diamonds Are Forever: the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey" for its Los Angeles debut in June 2011, Director Richard Jay-Alexander is currently re-vamping Pop Music icons Donny & Marie's Las Vegas show AND directing their individual solo national tours which kick-off this summer. 

FYI -both Warren and Sam Harris will be singing for Upright Cabaret during Gay Pride Weekend on the 11th of this month at 5: 30 pm in West Hollywood Park. Warren will be premiering songs from the show.

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